The United States of America…According to Joe Byrd

14 Oct

Try to picture this. You are recording music in 1967. The Beatles just released a little album entitled Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors are setting the psychedelic scene on fire and Jimi Hendrix is pondering whether or not you are experienced (and setting his own guitar on fire). You cut an album to compete in one of the greatest years for music ever…and you don’t use a guitar!

Sure fire failure, right? Wrong. Utterly wrong. What you do get is a psychedelic record way before its time. A record that shattered preconceived notions of rock n’ roll and challenged listeners to understand its pulchritudinous and spatial splendor. And, like many great works of art, it was smothered by the popular music of the time and left to rot on the discount racks. But, it has been received well by recent reviewers and will now be featured as one of the most underrated albums of all time on the Music Court. It is the eponymous United States of America.


Straight out of LA, CA, US


The USA only released this one album that hit #181 on Billboard’s Top 200 in 1968. Afterwards, the band went their separate ways. Joe Byrd, the main electronic music man, went on to form his field hippies and go on creating psychedelic works. While it may not have looked like it at the time, the USA seriously quit while they were ahead of the psychedelic game.

The album was influential more for the band’s adroitness with the emerging electronic sound that was about to become pervasive in the 60’s music scene, rather than Byrd’s radical lyric that made the band name rather humorous). And, because the technology was obscenely expensive at the time, the band was left with whatever oscillators and other devices they could get their hands on. But, the sound that they produced. Wow.

Also, because Byrd was really into early American music (dixieland jazz and marches for example) he included clips of these pieces in USA’s elaborate compositions. Therefore, the listener is bombarded with a sound attack that combines old-time America mixed with the newer psychedelic sound and vocalist Dorothy Moskowitz’s freaky voice.

Just check out “The American Metaphysical Circus.”

The rap on USA at the time of this album’s release was that they were too mechanical. But, truthfully, they were just moving into a different realm of psychedelia. This was an experiment and it blew the top off of the conventions of an electronic sound.

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